Ancient Volcanic Eruptions Still Taking Lives

Jan 13, 2010
Acid rain from volcanic eruptions is thought to have eroded silicon dioxides from rocks, subsequently tainting peat bogs and the coal that formed from the bogs, over millions of years

(PhysOrg.com) -- A cancer epidemic under way in southeast China may have been initiated by a string of Siberian volcanoes that spewed ash across the Earth 250 million years ago, according to a study published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology.

Nonsmoking women in the Xuan Wei County, Yunnan Province, China suffer from the world’s highest known rate of , and Geosciences Research Professor Robert Finkelman, one of the study’s co-authors, said researchers believe the answer is in the coal that women in the province use for heating and cooking.

“Peak lung cancer mortality in women in one specific area of China—Xuan Wei—has been reported at 400 deaths per 100,000 people, which is nearly 20 times the mortality levels in the rest of China,” Finkelman said.

The extraordinarily high rate of lung cancer and the constant use of coal by women for heating and cooking led geoscientists to study the native coal from area mines.

“We discovered that the regional coal that formed after the Permo-Triassic times, about 250 million years ago, was very high in , which has been linked to cancer in recent studies,” Finkelman said.

The team concluded that volcanoes in Siberia erupted for 5 million years, blasting acidic gasses and particulates into the atmosphere, which cooked into a toxic soup of . The acidic rain decimated life on Earth and eroded area rocks, freeing up silica, which washed into surrounding peat bogs. Over millions of years, the Xuan Wei peat bogs converted into coal fields, becoming the source of the tainted coal.

“We think the risk comes from burning the coal, not from harvesting it,” Finkelman said. “There is probably a linkage between the gasses being mobilized by the burning coal and the very fine-grained silica particulates that are rafted up by these gasses.”

Explore further: Monitoring heavy metals using mussels

More information: pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021%2Fes902033j

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User comments : 6

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PinkElephant
not rated yet Jan 13, 2010
In other words, sand dust causes lung cancer? If that were true, there ought to be elevated lung cancer levels in desert communities: the Middle East and sub-Saharan countries (particularly on Sahara's western shores) come to mind...
dachpyarvile
not rated yet Jan 13, 2010
The grains of desert sand are too large to pierce the lung tissue like minerals such as asbestos can. But, very fine grains of SiO2 would be small enough to damage tissue and cause cancer in a similar manner.

In addition, desert peoples tend to cover their faces in and around sandstorms. The people in China who are using this tainted coal likely do not cover their faces at all while using it in their homes.
jamesrm
not rated yet Jan 13, 2010
Larger particles of Silica(sand)in the lung is more a cause of Emphysema
http://oem.bmj.co...abstract
dachpyarvile
not rated yet Jan 13, 2010
This is still more dust than grains of desert sand, although there is a host of other diseases that can be contracted from inhaling desert sands in the Middle East. Depending upon where one goes one can also pick up one of a number of parasites.
Caliban
1 / 5 (1) Jan 17, 2010
Silicon dioxide(SiO2) and silicate(SiO4)minerals-sand, for example- are, as you now know, two different things. Apparently, SiO2 is very reactive chemically, especially relative to sand, which is essentially the very familiar glass used in every day life, which we all know to be a very stable, non-reactive substance.
dachpyarvile
not rated yet Jan 21, 2010
No, SiO2 (also known as Silica) is the majority chemical constituent of sand the world over. There also are silicate minerals.

Silica is not all that chemically reactive. It is found alone in nature, being the most common chemical in earth's crust. It can, however, be reacted with basic metal oxides to produce other chemical compounds.

On the other hand, SiO4 is often found bound-up with various metallic elements as in the following minerals and many more:

Forsterite Mg2SiO4
Fayalite Fe2SiO4
Tephroite Mn2SiO4
Kirschsteinite CaFeSiO4
Monticellite CaMgSiO4.

Glass, additionally, also is SiO2 but not allowed to crystallize. SiO2 is melted and then rapidly cooled to produce glass. Colored glass can be made by adding impurities to the molten mass.